“Yukon soldiers are buried in more than 50 cemeteries on four continents.” –Michael Gates
Lest we forget … This is why Michael Gates (Yukon historian and Yukon News columnist) and D. Blair Neatby (military historian, Yellowknife) have co-authored the memorial book, Yukon Fallen of World War I, a collection of more than 100 biographies that honours Yukoners who answered the call to arms—and why the Whitehorse Legion is pleased to announce the book’s publication.
“This book is not about me,” Gates said resolutely. “It’s for the Legion, by the Legion. It’s especially important to them to honour their comrades, and it’s fitting that this [book] should be done in 2018, the centennial [of the end of WWI] … on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month.”
Joe Mewett, Legion president, said that the idea for the book came about during the North and the First World War Conference, in 2016. “People came from all over the world. There were World War I historians who visited Whitehorse and Dawson, and they discovered that some names were missing. Basically … that led to finding out who was missing.
“And the Legion’s mandate is, in part, remembrance,” Mewett said, “and part of that is keeping the history alive. With the book, we’re trying to make people realize what these guys went through and why it’s so important in our history. From a personal point of view, it [the history] sets the framework for who we are.”
Mewett has been in the military for 30 years and has served in the Western Sahara, Bosnia and Afghanistan (a.k.a. the “Sandbox”). “Canadians are very well respected … just because of what they’ve done. World War I, for Canadian history—period—had a huge impact. It was the first time Canadians fought as Canadian units. They had always fought as part of British units.
“The Canadians fought as a group and took Vimy—when nobody else could. They did it using a rolling barrage [an artillery barrage that precedes infantry that advances at a strategic pace].”
“The Canadians took Vimy in four hours,” added Gates.
“The last Canadian to die—George Price—died at 10:58,” said Mewett. (The war ended at 11:00 hours.)
Gates said that the base of the Vimy Memorial is engraved with the names of soldiers who were never found, including nine Yukoners.
Gates fell in love with the Yukon and its history when he first visited in 1971. “I have made it my passion to see the history, visit the history and try to save it.” He soon recognized that little was known or recorded about the Yukon in WWI; and now, he said he is “filling a gap in history.” His last book, Klondike to Berlin: The Yukon in World War I, was shortlisted (one of three semi-finalists) for the Fred Kerner Book Award.
Of the WWI soldiers, Gates said, “Nearly 1,000 went. Only 100 returned to the Yukon.” He added that about half of the enlisted Yukoners were gold miners; some Mounties, some clerks … “Yukoners stood out for their bravery and their accomplishments. And back home they threw themselves into the war effort. They knitted socks and they raised funds, and they raised funds …
“They raised 10 times more per capita than anywhere else in the country.”
Gates talks about the fallen Yukoners with familiarity, as though each were a friend, and he pauses briefly between stories as if to honour each with a moment of silence. “It is important,” he explains, “to have some sense of who they were, how they came to be in the Yukon, what they accomplished, of their medals, and of how they died and where they were buried.
“In the area of the Somme Valley, in France; and Ieper, in Belgium, there are over 400 cemeteries. Sadly, many of them—their remains—were never recovered.
“The most tragic day for Yukoners was October 30, 1917, at the Battle of Passchendaele. That day, nine Yukoners set out to do battle and were never seen again.” Their names are on the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing (Ieper, Belgium). “There are tens of thousands of names of those who were never found. Fourteen of those were Yukoners.”
With a tinge of emotion, Gates describes the Last Post Ceremony under the Menin Gate Memorial. “Every day, since 1928, except during the German occupation, volunteers from the fire department come at 8 p.m. [20:00 hours] and the ‘Last Post’ is played. There is a deep sense of reverence and stillness in Gates’ description: The traffic is stopped. The Last Post has sounded, followed by a minute of silence. Wreaths may be laid and the “Réveille” is played. “It’s all about remembering. Honouring.”
The launch for Yukon Fallen of World War I will be held October 25 from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Whitehorse Legion. All are welcome. The book will also be available on Remembrance Day at the Canada Games Centre.
For the Fallen (fourth verse)
“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.At the going down of the sun and in the morning,We will remember them.” –Lawrence Binyon, 1914